“Objectively Baseless” Copyright Suit Results in $88,000 Fee Award

Eugene Volokh writes in The Washington Post about this week’s ruling in Choyce v. SF Bay Area Independent Media Center et al. (N.D. Cal. Nov. 3, 2014).  The plaintiff, Dionne Choyce, sued the defendant SF Bay Area Independent Media Center and its web host, Layer42.net, for copyright infringement based on the posting by unknown third parties of allegedly false and defamatory articles about the plaintiff on the defendants’ website.  The third party postings also included a photograph of the plaintiff from the plaintiff’s website, which formed the basis of the plaintiff’s copyright claim.

Choyce’s story reads like a comedy of errors.  The initial complaint was filed before the plaintiff even applied for federal copyright registration for the image in question, which is a prerequisite to filing a federal copyright lawsuit.  After the court dismissed the suit without prejudice, Choyce then filed a copyright application wrongfully listing himself as the author of the photograph, even though it was taken by someone else, and submitted a first amended complaint to the court.  Because the copyright belonged to the photographer rather than the plaintiff, and the plaintiff’s “additional meritless arguments” had provided no basis for establishing the plaintiff’s ownership of the copyright, the court declined to grant the plaintiff a third chance to submit a properly pled complaint.  Concluding that “Plaintiff’s copyright claim was, to put it bluntly, objectively baseless,” and noting that Choyce “has yet to plead a valid federal cause of action in any of his proposed complaints, or explain how he might at any point in the foreseeable future,” the court then dismissed the copyright claim with prejudice, and awarded the defendants $87,835 in attorney’s fees.  As the court put it, “[h]ad Plaintiff’s counsel consulted even basic authority regarding copyright law, he would have and should have known that he had no basis to bring a copyright action.”  A more fundamental takeaway from this case is the critical importance of properly establishing ownership and use rights for copyrighted materials.  Read the full article here, and the court’s opinion and order here.

 By Alex E. Proimos (http://www.flickr.com/photos/proimos/4199675334/) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

By Alex E. Proimos (http://www.flickr.com/photos/proimos/4199675334/) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Reposted from The Washington Post.